What Happens to the Mystique if the Cubs Win?

What Happens to the Mystique if the Cubs Win?

Scrubs. Flubs. Cubes. Whether spoken with derisive or affectionate inflection, the names infer the same thing: the Cubs franchise is one built on the concept of being lovable losers. Sure, they've had their share of success, winning occasional division championships here and there. Heck, they even have one playoff series victory in the last seven decades.

If we look simply at the black-and-white of the numbers, the Cubs aren't losers at all. They were the 2nd-ever MLB team to 10,000 wins and boast an all-time winning % of .511. At first blush, that doesn't seem like much to crow about, but consider that among the 6 other teams with 10K wins, only 3 (NY/San Francisco Giants: 10,703/.538; Brooklyn/LA Dodgers: 10,407/.525; St. Louis Cardinals: 10,391/.519) have won at a better clip than the Cubs.

Just in case you're wondering, the Reds (10,189/.508), Pirates (10,064/.503), and Braves (10,237/.502) round out the all-time winningest clubs. Only 5 teams in baseball have more captured more pennants than the Cubs' 16: the Yankees (40), Cards (23), Dodgers (22), Giants (22), and Braves (17). Of course, the fact that the last of those 16 for Chicago occurred in 1945 doesn't help the argument.

And while I'm on the subject of totals, lets look at the number of players that have worn a Cubs jersey: 1,966, behind only the Redbirds (2,205). That's almost 2,000 Mike Harkeys, Jeff Picos, and Les Lancasters; incidentally, those first two are the respective pitching coaches for the Cubs' last two opponents, the Reds and D-backs. And the third man was the first answer from both my brother and a Twitter follower when I asked who would follow two of my former favorite Cubs pitchers.

But while the Cardinals are lauded for their development and savvy with said players, the Cubs are lamented for their devaluation and sadly-spoken tales of what might have been. Other keystone MLB organizations are built on a culture of success, both past and present.

But the Cubs, oh the Cubs; they have somehow managed to subsist on a diet of hope, nostalgia and tolerated mediocrity for longer than most teams have been in existence. And this was the plan from at least the days of PK Wrigley, the man who wanted to remove his own surname from his team's home in favor of Cubs Park. Why? Well, because the ballpark was, and should be, the reason people came out to see the Cubs. Or so Wrigley reasoned.

And his plan worked, for the most part. There have been down years and attendance is certainly proving that many need to see a competitive team before paying the 3rd-highest ticket prices in baseball. But there's still an strong undercurrent among Cubs fans that Wrigley is at least as integral to their loyalty as the laundry.

For those fans, it's not the result of the game, or even the seemingly-interminable season that matter. If they can visit Wrigley and feel the sun on their face, see the manual scoreboard towering over them in center, and catch a baseball game, all is right with the world.

And I get that, to an extent. There's little better than a beautiful summer afternoon at the ballpark, right?

But I was forced to dig a little deeper the other day during an appearance in studio with Query & Schultz on 1260AM WNDE. Jake Query, whose mother is a Cubs die-hard, laid out his theory that the losing is so fundamental to being a Cubs fan that winning it all would actually erode, if not completely eliminate, the mystique.

I countered by citing declining attendance and a general sense of frustration, and, at times, outright anger, present among fans in many circles. I've written before about when Cubs baseball stopped being fun and I don't believe I'm alone in those thoughts. In short, the 2003 season showed fans that the Cubs could win, and getting that close and losing it changed the game for them.

But Jake got me thinking and I still have to wonder: would things change again if the Cubs win it all? Would it be like the scene in Forrest Gump, the one in which he runs from coast to coast and back, inspiring legions of faithful devotees to follow along with little care as to the destination? The end of his journey is an anti-climactic event, as Gump simply stops running and says, "I'm pretty tired...I think I'll go home now."

While there's no doubt a Cubs' World Series title would be greeted with slightly more fanfare than the retirement of a bearded runner in a movie, something in the back of my mind wonders whether some will still feel the same way about the Cubs. It's done, the journey's over; I've poured my life and loyalty into this team and now I can die happy.

Does that metaphysical pull to the ballpark still exist if it's festooned with banners celebrating a contemporary winner and not just those mythical teams from the past? Will the Cubs become the Boston Red Sox? I wear my heart on my sleeve, literally, and I can confidently say that I'd be swollen with the gluttony of pride, but would gladly go back for seconds and thirds as the team continued to compete.

But what do you think, not just for yourself, but for your fellow Cubs fans: if there's nothing to hope for, nothing to complain about, is there still anything at all? Is the mystique still there when the sign reads "AC000000?" I'd love to read your thoughts below, so fill up the comment box or tweet me.

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  • We came close in 2003, but thanks to Prior, Wood, Alou, and especially Alex Gonzalez, we escaped that and now have the Bartman myth to go along with the Goat.

    The other thing to figure in these stats is that the Cubs are at least 100 years older than the Diamondbacks and Marlins.

  • In reply to jack:

    I really believe if they get out of the 8th inning.....

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    That's essentially my point. But, instead, we had a Cubbie occurrence, and the mystique continues.

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    And that's why I didn't include those two, either because it was too depressing or because the sample size doesn't fit. I mean, if this blog was around in the 1930's, we'd be talking about how the Cubs were one of the greatest teams ever. Give the Marlins another 100 years of losing and you've got the same thing. Well, except with no fans.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Except their cheap-out has been characterized (at least by Fox) as a "rebuilding," and the Marlins have two more championships than the Cubs for the period that the Marlins existed.

    I wonder if the Cubs could have been considered on a consistent level with the Yankees, even in the 1930s. Again, they had the advantage of there being far fewer MLB teams.

  • Cubs win .........that's funny.

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    I don't think it changes the mystique at all as they have a lot of history and Wrigley Field will always draw people no matter what, but a Championship would mean they would draw significantly larger numbers.

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    In reply to Richard Madsen:

    Ideally, but there is a segment out there that will probably just say, "Huh, I guess that's it then." I think that encompasses more of the tourists who come to the park just for the nostalgia. But this also assumes that we're talking jumbotron and all kinds of signage to go with the winning. The whole vibe changes if they win and are consistently good, which means you may very well lose a lot of the nostalgia-first crowd in favor of the bandwagon, here-for-the-party-of-a-good-team crowd.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    The Jumbotron is not necessarily counter the loser image, unless you are making the argument Ricketts seems to make that without the Jumbotron and other garish LED advertising, he can't afford a winning team, notwithstanding all Theo and Jed are saying about the minor leagues eventually providing one.

    There may be the argument that all the garish garbage hurts the aesthetic of the ball park, but one could argue that the electronic sign under the scoreboard already has. Also, the Cubs (in AZ) and other teams are emulating the current brick behind home plate, not the prior higher wall with the vents.

    Also, George Steinbrenner said that by building a new Yankee Stadium, the fans would have the same experience, except that the plumbing and other infrastructure would work. The Yankee teams since then haven't been good enough for the fans to be saying that they came out for the teams rather than the Yankee Stadium experience.

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    The tenor of the piece isn't about winning countering a loser image; that's a given. The thought is that the concept of losing, the aura, if you will (Rick James's was orange, btw), is an intrinsic part of what it is to be a Cubs fan and what makes it fun/cool/unique to visit Wrigley. Does winning then, and the trappings that come as either precursor or direct result of it, erode the very fabric of what it means to be a Cubs fan?

    We're all willing masochists in this fandom thing, aided and abetted by the losing. If they win, does our deviant loyalty simply deviate? Does it fundamentally alter the reason that we are fans?

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    I think Harry was providing a Bud, not a shrink.

  • A few random thoughts on this interesting topic:

    1) Winning teams attract fans. They may not be the same fans, but they fill the seats all the same. When the Cubs start winning, they'll fill the seats.

    2) The proposed left field Jumbotron is necessary for the fan experience. Times have changed. And it need not be "garish." The right-field electronic scoreboard has greatly enhanced the fan experience and it is not in the least bit garish. In fact, it's a lot better than the electronic display underneath the center field scoreboard, which, IMO, ought to go if and when the left field scoreboard is installed.

    3) IMO, Cubs fans after 2003 lost their wits. They have not regained them. Cubs fans used to understand why we had a losing franchise and why there was nothing we could do until the team was sold. Then the Tribune Co. bought the team and did what we should have expected a corporate owner to do. Thankfully, the Trib Co. went bankrupt. Now we have owners who are also fans and have decided to do whatever it takes to re-position the franchise to compete in the new, CBA-era of baseball. Ironically, many Cubs fans, ironically, seemingly mostly older ones who should know better, have chosen this moment to go completely off their rockers. There are very few baseball franchises that have been consistently (playoff) competitive. I believe that the Cubs will soon be one of them. I'm willing to wait.

    4) There will be a new fan-base when that happens. It will be different demographically. It will have a different mentality. The era of the fans of the "lovable losers" who became the "unlovable whiners" is coming to an end. Enjoy it while it lasts. Or don't. I don't.

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    In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    Very well said. I have never seen myself as a fan of the "lovable losers", but instead a fan of the Cubs. It has been painful at times (ok a lot of times) to be a Cub fan, but I have always wanted them to succeed and look forward to the day when they are a competitive team year in and and year out.
    Winning a World Series does not change what it means to be a Cubs fan, if you are truly a fan.
    I for one, am not a fan just because I enjoy watching them lose!

  • In reply to Richard Madsen:


  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    The Tribune Co. going bankrupt had nothing to do with the sale of the Cubs, at least not directly.

    When Zell took over Tribune Co., he said he had no use for baseball, and put the team on the market. The only things that could say were connected is that the Cubs were making money even though Tribune Co. was milking it, and the bankruptcy court had to approve the sale and put Chicago National League Baseball Club under its protection to assure that the Ricketts LLC didn't assume any of the liabilities of the bankruptcy.

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    Great comments all around, love the chatter. Keep it up.

  • I don't think that their are Cub fans because the team has not won. I think that it is because of day baseball, WGN, Brickhouse, Harry, and Wrigley Field. We fans got reeled in at an early age.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    I'm not indicating fans are fans because the Cubs haven't won, but rather that the losing is an intrinsic part of what it is to be a Cubs fan. Therefore, taking away the losing could actually take away part of what it is to be a fan. Even some who rail against the decisions the team has made seem to want them to lose in order to be proven right. I, for one, would welcome winning; but it goes without saying that the fabric of Cubs fandom is woven with the yarn of losing; what happens if you pull that loose string then?

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    If you really want to get into it, maybe fandom is based on all sorts of irrelevant intrinsic stuff, like the Harry "Take Me Out to the Balllgame," the L flag, going to some bar on the other side of Clark St., Sam Sianis coming around about once a year with his goat, and Tom Ricketts finding true love there (nothing said about Laura). Maybe compared to that, the losing tradition is marginal.

    Do you know of any other team that celebrates such baggage traditions? I know there's stuff like sausage races, but it seems like the Cubs rely on this type of stuff.

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